PLAT Studio: Nestled between Shanghai and Suzhou, Kunshan is a rapidly developing county-level city. The recent influx of industry workers and residents, drawn to the newly flourishing tech district of Kunshan West, has created a need for conscious inclusion of green infrastructure to support the district’s core as it continues to grow.
Typical of cities in southern Jiangsu, activity in Kunshan historically centered around the network of canals that permeated the city–a lifestyle emanating from people’s connection to and dependency upon water. Modern development has since shifted the emphasis from canals to highways, prioritizing vehicular convenience over the pedestrian experience. While Kunshan West is blessed with expansive water and open space resources, poor infrastructure in combination with rapid development have left these natural resources underutilized and neglected.
Forest Park, a large 163 hectare area of forested wetland, has the capacity to act as an ecological and recreational anchor for the region. The park falls within the Miaojing River watershed, a historically preserved drinking water aqueduct resource connecting Kuilei Lake and Kunshan’s Old Town.
Although designated as a recreational open space for local residents, Forest Park’s pre-existing condition posed of two levels of inaccessibility. One, vegetation within Forest Park was densely overgrown and neglected. Two, the perimeter of the park is surrounded by private developments with few accessible entry points, to the extent that its western edge acted as a barrier between residents and the park’s amenities.
In order to reconnect Forest Park with its surrounding neighborhoods, design strategies addressing accessibility, ecology, and culture were necessary to transform the park into a district destination that is valued as both an ecological and recreational resource.
The design framework addresses accessibility by providing a new entry point on the western border, puncturing the existing barrier into Forest park. The West Entry is a vital gateway node that leads visitors into a recreational plaza fitted with amenities for social and active outdoor gatherings. Along the West Pond, the amphitheater, visitor center, and cafe take advantage of picturesque views of the water, enhanced by aquatic planting and screens of trees that mask the skyline of surrounding developments. The West Entry also serves as a departure point from which visitors can explore the network of trails and boardwalks within Forest Park. These internal pathways traverse a variety of peaceful and natural habitats, ranging from wetlands to forests. Timber boardwalks zigzag through diverse aquatic planting and beds of reeds, while hard paved footways meander through colorful deciduous trees. These pedestrian routes connect to the bike trail system of the neighboring Kuilei Lake, forming the “West Loop”: an active and community-oriented waterfront park.
The green infrastructure strategy of Forest Park aims to improve water quality district-wide by utilizing its vast network of filtrating wetlands. Through a combination of aquatic reed planting and a water pump system, Forest Park filters storm-water runoff from adjacent urban developments and returns it as clean water downstream, near the southern edge of the district. Bioswales and ornamental wetlands support the park’s mechanic infrastructure, mitigating pressure on urban storm sewers and creating a healthier hydrological system that integrates the parks’ water infrastructure into the surrounding urban context.
The planting palette hosts a wide variety of flora and fauna to foster a high level of biodiversity within the park, while providing an immersive experience for visitors that is both visually pleasing and educationally enriching.
The West Entry functions as an active cultural space by providing access to amenities that encourage the local community to gather. Residents of Kunshan West enjoy using the recreational plaza as place to jog, practice Tai Chi, and meet for family and social functions. The cafe and visitor’s center service residents as they venture out to explore the surrounding natural environment.
The cultural identity of the West Entry is carried through the park via the Lotus Walk, a wetland boardwalk that brings visitors in direct contact with nature. The trail moves through swathes of wetland planting and offers peaceful rest areas to sit and engage with the natural beauty of the park.
Completed in 2016, the success of Forest Park’s West Entry design is evident in the daily bustling activity along the western border, where visitors can be seen fishing on boardwalks, strolling through the lush planting, and dining by the West Pond. Forest Park has become indispensable landscape infrastructure for Kunshan West that supports the growing population and district development, fulfilling the needs of the community through efficient accessibility, abundant ecology, and dynamic recreational amenities.
Short office name: PLAT Studio
Role of the office in the project: Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: E2 Design Lab, Australia (Water Management)
Project location: Yuan Shi Lu, Kunshan Shi, Jiangsu Sheng China 215301
Design year: 2014
Year Built: 2016